WASHINGTON -- A traveler asks a farmer how to get to a particular village. The farmer replies, "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here." Barack Obama, who asked to be president, nevertheless deserves sympathy for having to start where America is in Afghanistan.
But after 11 months of graceless disparagements of the 43rd president, the 44th acts as though he is the first president whose predecessor bequeathed a problematic world. And Obama's second new Afghanistan policy in less than nine months strikingly resembles his predecessor's plan for Iraq, which was: As Iraq's security forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand down.
Having vowed to "finish the job," Obama revealed Tuesday that he thinks the job in Afghanistan is to get out of Afghanistan. This is an unserious policy.
Obama's surge will bring to 51,000 his Afghanistan escalation since March. Supposedly this will buy time for Afghan forces to become adequate. But it is not intended to buy much time: Although the war is in its 98th month, Obama's "Mission Accomplished" banner will be unfurled 19 months from now -- when Afghanistan's security forces supposedly will be self-sufficient. He must know this will not happen.
In a spate of mid-November interviews -- while participating in the president's protracted rethinking of policy -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described America's Afghanistan goal(s) somewhat differently. They are "to defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies" because "al-Qaeda and the other extremists are part of a syndicate of terror, with al-Qaeda still being an inspiration, a funder, a trainer, an equipper and director of a lot of what goes on." And: "We want to do everything we can to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda." And: "We want to get the people who attacked us." And: "We want to get al-Qaeda." And: "We are in Afghanistan because we cannot permit the return of a staging platform for terrorists."
But al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan do not number in the tens of thousands, or even thousands. Or perhaps even hundreds. Although "the people who attacked us" were al-Qaeda, the threat that justifies today's escalation is, Clinton says, a "syndicate of terror" of which al-Qaeda is just an important part. But is Afghanistan central to the syndicate?